TransFeminism/CisFeminism: Why Can’t We Be Friends?

The recent bout of cis-centric/transphobic commenting on some of the bigger feminist blogs highlights a problem that exists throughout the feminist community. There are very good reasons for solidarity between the transgender community, that is people whose gender identity is self-identified as different from that assigned to them at birth, and cisgender feminists (by cisgender I mean people who identify with the gender identity they were assigned at birth). However, a binary view of gender and lack of understanding of trans life experiences often leads to the exclusion of gender non-conformists from feminist analysis and to transphobic attitudes within feminist circles.

In patriarchal cultures the oppression of women through exclusion, marginalization, and violence is oppression of people who have failed to be men . When power has been deliberately concentrated in male hands and men have positioned themselves as the norm, women experience violence because they are treated as an other, as less than. Less worthy of life, less worthy of choice, less worthy of bodily autonomy. Women’s consent is deemed unnecessary because they are seen as less than human.

There are many people, including too many women, who experience marginalization, oppression, and violence because of their failure to be men but who also fail to fit a definition of woman rigidly defined as those who were identified female at birth, self-identity as female and also dress a certain way, speak a certain way, move a certain way, desire a certain way. In fact, failure to fit perfectly into the woman box is also an excuse for oppression.

The compulsory gender binary, the forcing of all people into the boxes of male or not, is an essential tool of patriarchy. It codifies the groups “male” and “female” and posits them in opposition. Power is concentrated in male hands and everyone in the male group is given a reason to oppress everyone else so they can hold on to that power. The group women is also clearly defined, and that is where the inferior others fit.

The rest of us who don’t fit the narrow parameters of either category are experiencing oppression because of patriarchy. This should be a reason for solidarity between cisgender feminists and the transgender community. But one way hierarchies are maintained is by setting up situations where members of oppressed groups in turn oppress those with even less power and privilege because it is one of the only available ways to demonstrate power and attempt to move up in the world – by moving someone else down. I am not suggesting cisgender feminists are consciously choosing to oppress gender non-conformists, but it is undoubtedly happening.

I have certainly experienced a lack of understanding that my gender identity is a feminist issue. My experience comes from the specific position of being on the spectrum of transitioning from male to female, and also of having a gender presentation that is currently in the general area of gender fuck – I seldom look like I fit into any one category.

Ciswomen doing really amazing feminist and reproductive justice organizing have challenged me when I switched pronouns, questioned the reasons for and legitimacy of my transitioning (as if I need to give a reason for being myself, especially when it comes with so much hatred and violence), and tried to fit me into an identity box (gay man) I never belonged in because that was the role they wanted me to fill in their lives. And then there is anxiety over bathrooms, treating the comfort of ciswomen as more important than the physical needs and very real threat of violence experienced by transwomen.

These are all examples of patriarchal thinking forcing its way into feminist circles. I’ve heard these sentiments from really amazing people who I love. But we live in a culture structured by patriarchy, so we are all susceptible to ways of thinking and knowing that are antithetical to our feminist ideals.

When someone challenges my pronouns, gender presentation, gender identity, sexuality, and right to pee they are, consciously or not, claiming ownership of my identity. Assuming that I lack the humanity to define myself.

This is a fundamentally feminist issue. It is the production and reification of this sort of thinking that maintains women as an underclass. The dehumanization of non-normal (meaning non-male) identities informs the pro-life movement that sees women not as conscious thinking individuals, but rather as existing for the function of baby production. As vessels for the production of life rather than life itself. This sort of thinking informs rape culture, in which people are seen as unable to make choices about their own sexuality; when someone is viewed as less than human their ability to choose what kind of sex they have when and with whom is invalidated, which further dehumanizes them.

When my gender and the identity of any gender non-conformist is challenged, patriarchy and male supremacy gets that much more powerful. Cismen are re-imposed as the norm and the compulsory gender binary is reinforced, hurting gender non-conformists and ciswomen alike.

My everyday experience of living in the world as someone whose gender identity and expression does not fit the binary suggests to me clear points of solidarity between trans folk and all feminists.

It has not been an uncommon experience for me to have cismen try to pick me up at bus stops or follow me home, assuming I am a sex worker. Because I show the world some glimpse of my gender identity they assume that identity puts me in a very specific sexual role, existing for their pleasure.

I am trans bashed on the street constantly. People who present as cismen will start yelling, getting upset, moving to the other side of the street as if I am scary, a threat. Groups of teenagers will discuss me as I walk by; what “it” is, often with the female members of the group expressing interest, liking my hair or makeup and male members only able to express revulsion. I also experience this strange highbred of bashing and catcalling when someone simultaneously mocks my presentation and sarcastically expresses attraction.

My experience is different from what ciswomen experience on the street. Ciswomen are followed and targeted by cat calling because of their proximity to fitting into the predefined role of men’s inferior. Trans folk have these experiences because we don’t fit. But both groups are targets of the everyday vocalizations that reassert male supremacy because we are the other. We are not men, so we are objects.

This is fucked. But it is also a point of solidarity.

The transgender community experiences a sort of oppression that fits very well into the analysis of patriarchy that is foundational to feminism. Feminism, stripped of transphobic ideas that are antithetical to the philosophy and goals of feminist politics, has a lot to offer the trans community. And the trans community has a lot to offer feminists. We can bring an understanding of the gender binary that calls for the dismantling of a system generally viewed as natural, fundamental, and unquestionable, a system that is an essential tool of the patriarchy that feminism exists to oppose. But in order to do so we have to stop targeting each other, start listening to each other, and unite on the issues we share.

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138 Comments

  1. Gular
    Posted April 19, 2009 at 3:24 am | Permalink

    Thank you, Josh T. This was really great and you bring up a lot of issues I personally agree with you on.

  2. Kristen
    Posted April 19, 2009 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    ARGGGHHHH!!!
    Josh posts a well crafted discussion of (to paraphrase) how cis centered feminism is despite the fact that we’re all facing similar oppression and rather than dealing with that serious problem within feminism we’re giving a fucking object lesson in privilege.
    Hint: This isn’t about cis discomfort or confusion or education…
    Feminism (in so far as there is a “feminism”) needs to change. Too many are invested in a “theory” of gender and gender identity that contradicts the lived experiences of other human beings. Trying to force people into theoretical boxes hurts actual human beings. So rather than worrying about being confused and uncertain, how about we listen to these lived experiences without trying to make it about cis people.

  3. Jos
    Posted April 19, 2009 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    *she

  4. Naught
    Posted April 19, 2009 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure how much of the theory you’re talking about is in the post. I assume (please correct me if I’m wrong) you mean the theory that gender is a wholly constructed thing, and that there is little to no “innateness” in gender.
    I understand the objection many trans activists have is that the experience of many trans people is that they had a sense that they’d been grouped in the wrong gender from a very young age, which conflicts with the “gender is purely constructed” idea.
    Is this what you’re referring to? If so, I’d love to see more discussion of it, if others are interested.

  5. Caitlin Ate
    Posted April 19, 2009 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    There are multiple schools of thought (within trans* activism but not limited to) about gender. Some take the view that there are only two genders and they’ve just been placed into the wrong one. Some believe that gender is wholly constructed and that gender itself is an oppressive concept, violently enforced (by patriarchy). Some believe that gender is real but that there are more than just two (and that it shouldn’t be biologically determined).
    With the example you’re talking about specifically of ‘being born in the wrong body’ I know some trans people feel that is really true of them, some people feel that it isn’t exactly right but is a useful method of explaining their gender identity and some feel that it’s a really false and misleading explanation.
    The same way not all feminists have the same ideas about gender (or anything) there isn’t one school of thought that all trans* peeps subscribe to.

  6. Naught
    Posted April 19, 2009 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Sorry, quick question: what does “trans*” mean? I can’t seem to get google to recognize the asterisk as part of the word.

  7. Caitlin Ate
    Posted April 19, 2009 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    It’s similar to the way people use wom*n instead of women or womyn or maybe wimmin. It recognises that there is a broad range of trans* identities and that not everyone feels comfortable with a particular one. For example some trans* people are comfortable with or embrace ‘transsexual’ but others aren’t comfortable with it or don’t identify with it.
    So, yeah, instead of saying transsexual/transgendered/genderqueer every time most people just say trans – and then you can also use trans*. I like to use it as part of a wider recognition that “trans” isn’t some homogeneous group in which everyone thinks the same way about everything. However i’ve never found the use of the asterisk to be something people feel particularly strongly about.

  8. ccotting
    Posted April 19, 2009 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, so much, for writing this. Thank you to the editors for putting the link to this post on the first page.
    I do not, in any way, agree with the transphobic attitudes of many commenters here at feministing and at many other blogs. I have just begun to comment, but I want to say now that I will try to use this forum, as we all should, to discuss privilege and examine how our actions uphold these binaries and oppress trans people. I will remember that these binaries are constrictive to everyone — cis and trans alike — and I will work to deconstruct these binaries.
    I will try to use this forum to carefully listen to the experiences of trans people, who have often been written off, ignored, or silenced. I will try to remind others of these experiences and use my knowledge and understanding to educate and advocate, but never to priviledge my understanding above trans people’s experiences. I will try to always show respect, compassion, and understanding for experiences that do or do not have similarities to my own.
    I hope others will do the same. I love that we can discuss, agree, and dissent in this forum; this is why I like to participate in the community here. But I also believe as a feminist, a priviledged member of society, and a human being, it is my job to listen and learn beyond my own personal experiences. Thank you, Josh T., for helping me (and others) do so.

  9. jjgirl23
    Posted April 19, 2009 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Dude, I’m a college dropout and I knew what cisgender meant. There’s this awesome thing called google and five year olds can use it.

  10. Kelbesque
    Posted April 19, 2009 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    I believe that what she’s talking about is how a large portion of this thread consists of derailing by and regarding GREGORY–I might be wrong, but I think that’s the “object lesson in privilege” she’s referring to.

  11. Naught
    Posted April 19, 2009 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    Yes, that part I followed, I was more curious about the “theory” part.

  12. Mark
    Posted April 19, 2009 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    Not particularly well. Cisgender refers to someone whose gender identity corresponds to the genitalia they were born with, with the implication that over the course of the person’s lifetime their gender identity has not varied. For example, a person born with female genitalia who self-identifies as a woman is a cisgendered woman. As opposed to the definition given: (by cisgender I mean people who identify with the gender identity they were assigned at birth).
    Remembering what it is like not having a base of knowledge of feminism is difficult, but is extremely important when trying to explain things to people who have little prior knowledge. You can understand the definition given because you already know the definition.

  13. Kristen
    Posted April 19, 2009 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    Exactly, feminists have different ideas of how gender works, but these theories often conflict with the lived experience of other people.
    But a theory is just a useful explanation of observed phenomenon. When an observation doesn’t match the theory, it’s time to reexamine the theory.
    Instead we have feminists questioning the experiences of trans persons. Feminists accusing trans persons of being complicit in the oppression of cis women. Feminists denying trans persons access to critical resources like DV shelters and rape crisis centers. And even here on this blog, unable to understand that a trans woman is a WOMAN, period.

  14. zerk
    Posted April 19, 2009 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    I appreciate the concerns that we should be careful to use accessible language, but in my eight years of experience presenting to thousands of people on transgender issues these concerns just aren’t founded for “cisgender”.
    Non-academic audiences, from church youth-groups to human resources personnel, have not been confused by the term. I always define it to make sure, and after that we’re on the same page. It is clear the audience is interested, engaged, and understanding the material i am presenting by the questions they ask and responses they give to interactive exersizes. When folks are in a learning space, they understand new concepts might be involved and even the occasional new word.
    …And i feel like we all WANT Feministing to be a learning space.
    Because the word is new, most folks do still use it sparingly and with audience in mind. I wouldn’t use it to lobby my senator or write a huge news article or a television interview. But the Feministing community forum is not such a space. We are Feminists talking about the depth and breadth of ideas involved in Feminism. As such, i think Josh’s use of the term for this audience is very appropriate.

  15. Naught
    Posted April 19, 2009 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, that was supposed to be in response to Kelbesque below.

  16. CS
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 12:52 am | Permalink

    This topic is something which I’ve thought about and had conversations with people about. I don’t mean to make anyone feel bad but I’d like to voice an opinion. Feel free to correct me as necessary but try to understand that I’m just trying to be honest and open a dialogue. I can’t truly sympathize with the issues that transgendered people face since I haven’t walked that mile but I want to make it clear that I do understand that there is considerable associated emotional and sometimes physical trauma. The last time I tried to talk about this, the other person got up in the middle of a crowded room, cussed me out and left. I would be more than happy to read a comment which changes my opinion.
    I don’t understand the rejection of a gender binary. From a biological standpoint, there is a gender binary (leaving aside hermaphrodites which is a separate topic). You are born either a physical male or female. I understand that people can feel, internally, that they are a different sex. However, what I don’t understand is how this should be accepted as normal and encouraged. I understand this as a problem with the individual which causes a lot of hardship and emotional difficulty. Someone who is anorexic believes, without a doubt and sometimes to the death, that they overweight. No matter of talking, starvation, etc. can usually convince them otherwise. When treated, they have to be monitored around the clock and forced to eat until they change internally and alter their perception of reality.
    Someone who is born one gender and identifies as another would seem to fall into a similar category in my mind. It is a matter of the person coming to terms with themselves rather than making themselves into something different. I hold the same opinion of plastic surgery. The outside change is pointless unless that person learns to accept himself. Or differently, the desire to be something which doesn’t reflect reality should be treated by changing the person, not reality.
    Also, this point is different than the social aspect which transgender people face. This is the point which I see the issues dove-tailing. I agree completely that, socially, the dichotomy between male and female only serves as a tool of repression. People should not be forced to categorize themselves by dressing or acting a certain way or by being attracted to a certain sex. But here is a rub: there is a conflict between the sex of the person internally and the sex physically. By changing the external sex without addressing the internal sex, as I suggested above, the person isn’t coming to terms. I think this actually enforces the social gender binary and might actually be the issue which feminists have.
    The essential idea expressed in a transgender argument is that a person’s sexuality IS expressed externally and is completely fundamental to the person’s identity. In this view: gender is intrinsic to the individual internally and expressed outwardly by the physical body but also in the way a person acts, dresses and who they are sexually attracted to. To put this another way: a baby who is internally identified as a male (if this is possible for a baby) will be attracted to the color blue, will like trains and eventually be attracted to girls. If this boy is born as a physical female, she will be confused and conflicted because she is being told to do things which are identified as female and against her essential sex. I don’t agree with this.
    Again, I think it is an issue with coming to terms with yourself and reality. Dress however you feel, act however you feel; this isn’t what makes you a male or female. Male body parts make you male, female body parts make you female and only in the physical sense. In a society truly freed from gender roles, there shouldn’t be a conflict between gender internally and gender externally because there really is no “external” gender. This is the issue, I think, which feminists should identify with. I would be wary of any internal sexual identity which prompts people to conform and display an external gender role.

  17. Punchbuggy Green
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 1:01 am | Permalink

    So you are saying the existence of trans people conflicts with your ideas of feminism so the trans people need to change??? That is incredibly fucked up.

  18. Punchbuggy Green
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 1:32 am | Permalink

    Here is an informative post for you:
    http://isabelthespy.tumblr.com/post/97791309/i-dont-get-cis-people-who-dont-get-trans-people
    Entitled:
    “I don’t get cis people who don’t get trans people
    or more accurately, I don’t understand why they are so intent on “getting” trans people all”

  19. Punchbuggy Green
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 1:36 am | Permalink

    Also, let me assure you that you do not need to understand everything about a person’s identity to still be concerned about and actively engaged in promoting equality and rights for said person.

  20. electrogirl
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 1:37 am | Permalink

    Thank you for a clear, well-written post, Josh T. I admit that I am not terribly well educated on trans issues, among many many other social issues that I feel I really should know about, but I’m working on it! Posts like this help.
    Well-intentioned people who just don’t KNOW everything about such issues need opportunities to ask questions in order to learn. This is particularly true for people who don’t easily pick up on social cues, such as those on the autism spectrum.
    YES. This. I suspect that I’m aspie, although I have yet to be officially diagnosed. I have had trouble figuring out social cues from day one. I try my darnedest to be polite and courteous, but sometimes I just fall spectacularly flat on my face because I didn’t see something or hear something or process something that is totally obvious to everyone else around me! My family and close friends know and accept this social blindness as part of me, but dealing with strangers can be a frightening experience. It’s a bit like playing Minesweeper and not being able to read the numbers that tell you where the mines are.
    I’ll end with a little anecdote. A few years ago, I met a trans woman for the first time. It was coffee hour at the local Unitarian Universalist church, and somebody introduced me to L. It took me a bit to figure out what didn’t look “right” about her. (I did mention that I’m slow on the social uptake, yes?) Oh! Adam’s apple! Well, that explains her unusually low voice, then. My first thought after “oh, she’s a trans woman” was “damn, she’s got guts!”. Our town is amazingly conservative by California standards. So I told her that after we finished our conversation about the sermon; something along the lines of I thought she had guts and hoped to see her again next Sunday.
    Then once I got home the aspie post-social occasion jitters kicked in with a vengeance. Omigods, did I do everything okay? Did I look somewhere I wasn’t supposed to? Did I not look somewhere I was supposed to? I followed all my hard-learned social rules for dealing with adult women, was that all right? Did I offend L. with my comment that she was brave? Because you really shouldn’t need to be brave to be yourself, but the reality is that it DOES take guts to be yourself in this town if that’s not what the majority perceives as “normal”.
    I might have offended L. I might not have. I honestly don’t know. What I do know is that an online forum where I can ask stupidly basic questions and get answers about gender issues would be a huge blessing. With some practice, I’m sure I can learn how to interact with trans people the same as I do with cis people… not terribly well, but at least I might not come across as rude or uneducated.

  21. LenaD
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 2:51 am | Permalink

    Yes. Exactly.
    Much of his very thread has been a perfect example about why trans people — such as myself — don’t feel particularly welcome here.
    In particular cis people taking a trans topic and making it All About Them ™.
    The irony — and the hypocrisy — it burns…

  22. LenaD
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 3:04 am | Permalink

    Oops… I was intending to reply to Kelbesque’s observation about how most of this thread has been a Derail Fail.
    Which does feel like an “object lesson in privilege” and my lack of it. I.e. STFU trans people while I, a cis person, tell you what terminology I’ll be bothered to learn and what terms are acceptable to us cis people. And while I appreciate other cis people calling Gregory out on that, the effect was that discussion about the original topic was completely shunted aside.
    More than a bit silencing…

  23. kisekileia
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 3:30 am | Permalink

    I understand, totally. Everyone needs spaces where they figure out stuff like this without either derailing more complex discussions, or being derided as ill-intentioned just because we don’t understand the rules. The rules for participating in discourse about privilege and oppression are complex and difficult, and frequently asking questions about the rules gets you perceived as trying to “derail” things or “make it all about you”. While I agree with the basic concepts of privilege and oppression, I am deeply concerned by how the rules for discourse about those issues seem to be strict, unclear, and sometimes even rigged so that ‘privileged’ people can’t get anything right. I believe this creates a great deal of potential for autistic people and others who don’t know the rules to be oppressed.
    I understand the need to keep people’s attempts to learn from hijacking higher-level discussion. But the truth is, people need to be able to learn how to discuss privilege and oppression in settings where not everything they say will be “wrong”. In order to discuss privilege and oppression without oppressing autistic people and others with little background on such matters, we need to provide safe spaces for people to ask questions–even questions that may be offensive because they manifest privilege in a way that the asker doesn’t yet understand.
    Personally, I joined an online community recently that was meant for cisgendered people to debunk and unpack our privilege. But I continually had my intentions questioned, my presence criticized, and a variety of “this is privileged and you don’t have the right to say it because _______” tropes thrown at me, when all I did was ask questions about things like the relationship between cisgenderism and sexism against ciswomen who engage in non-gender-stereotypical behaviours. Because I used an example in my own life to ask the question, I was accused of making it “all about me”. All I was trying to do was learn more about the term “cisgendered”.
    And the thing is, I realize why that sort of thing is inappropriate in some places. But I shouldn’t have had to deal with people thinking ill of me as a person because I needed to ask those questions. People should have been able to say, “Okay, I really respect that you are trying to learn, but these sorts of questions are not what this community is for. Please go to ________ to ask things like that.”
    I felt horribly guilty at first because, growing up as someone with Asperger’s, I learned not to trust my own social intuition. Then I spoke with a trans friend, who told me frankly that he felt that I’d been attacked for no reason even though I’d bent over backwards to be nice to people.
    See, I shouldn’t have had to deal with this. But that community shouldn’t have had to deal with me as much as it did, either. For an Aspie who’s somewhere in between trans 101 and trans 102, there needs to be a place where I can go to learn and grow, so that I can better contribute to discourse without derailing things with questions.
    I hope this hasn’t come across as excessively derailing. I spoke about myself not to make it about me, but to explain why safe places to ask questions about privilege/oppression discourse are really, really important, especially for people on the autism spectrum. This really is a case of intersectionality of oppressions at work: We need to find systems that respect autistic people’s need to ask questions AND trans people’s need to not be answering questions all the time. Cisfeminism and transfeminism will be better friends when people can learn the basics without clogging up higher-level discussions.

  24. kisekileia
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 3:33 am | Permalink

    Sorry, “All I was trying to do was learn more about the term ‘cisgendered’” should have been “learn more about the term cisgenderism.”

  25. kisekileia
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 3:38 am | Permalink

    Now, about the original topic: I agree completely with Josh T.’s thesis that feminists and trans people have a common cause in the idea that people should not be forced to fit certain gender roles, or degraded when we don’t fit them. I’m glad to see the issue addressed on Feministing.

  26. j7sue2
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 4:23 am | Permalink

    In reply to CS… of course you don’t get it. You’re cisgendered. I personally think trans people have a brain sex that’s different to their body sex, but the idea of “accepting yourself” is just wrong. It’s been tried, and it does not work. What does work is transition, hormones, sex reassignment surgery. And absent social problems with transphobic bigotry, trans people go on to lead happy and productive lives. You want to change how gender is in society. Please do. Don’t expect me and my sisters to ruin their lives in the service of your idea though.
    You might like to educate yourself by reading this http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2007/aug/01/mytransmission outrageous transphobic bigotry from Julie Bindel (she has the same views as you by the way) and the comments (including some of mine ) following. I think she lost.

  27. Bancroft
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 5:12 am | Permalink

    Thank you Josh, for writing this. It’s a very informative post, although I feel that the subtitle ‘Why Can’t We Be Friends’ doesn’t reflect the very real problems between cis and trans blogs right now.
    Despite your great post I am really disappointed that the editors of Feministing are doing nothing regarding the current conflict. Miriam’s last post saying that she wouldn’t actually post or allow comments until she had time was deeply disappointing given how much damage had already been done at that point. I’m frankly astounded that it’s becoming obvious that none of the other Feministing editors are going to weigh in on this.

  28. j7sue2
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 5:47 am | Permalink

    This thread reminds me of a thread I participated on a supposed safe space discussion group for LGBT etc – I was repeatedly attacked for espousing the view that gender and sex were different concepts, and then I was attacked for daring to talk about trans things – so it turned out it was only a safe space for gay men, after all. I left. Feministing is better than that.

  29. Zyfron
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    I think you’ve got it backward. It is in fact a rejection of the idea of the possibility of trans-gender to say that your gender is determined only by outward appearances. Right now you are theorizing on the basis of your own experiences, while ignoring those experiences which contradict you.
    I wonder if you have the same opinion of homosexuality? I mean, you are born with a certain sex organ which, from an evolutionary standpoint, is pretty much designed to go together with the opposite kind of sex organ. Do you question that people can really be gay? I mean, how would it even make sense (theoretically) for your sexual attraction not to line up with your reproductive functionality?
    It’s the same with gender. to speculate about these sorts of things is all good and well, but there IS such a thing as gender identity. It’s part of cis privilege that you don’t really have to think about it.
    Also, (can’t remember if I said this earlier on this post or another) I’d lie to share a little bit of personal info – I’m a trans woman. most days I wear t shirts and cargo pants (though I also like loose skirts). I’m in college right now, and in a year I’m gong to be a software engineer. All that lines up much better with traditional male roles (well, except maybe the skirts, but honestly I was out for years before I even tried one on! definitely not a motivating factor). It’s not about wanting to wear frilly dresses and enjoy poetry. I am a woman. I can’t prove it, but neither can any cis woman, it’s just cis privilege that they are never asked to.
    You could say that it’s a psychological disorder – but why not say it’s a physiological disorder, of a woman having the wrong body instead of a man having the wrong mind? Both explanations are just as theoretically valid base don cis experience, one of them invalidates the trans experience while simultaneously being dismissive and degrading. It’s not unhealthy – I’m not hurting myself or anyone else, I am a perfectly capable young adult. Why does it need to be shunned? Why SHOULDN’T it be encouraged, just because you don’t fully understand it?
    (also, you might want to look into the difference between sex and gender!)

  30. Kristen
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Two points. One quick, one more philosophical:
    (1) Sex is not necessarily gender (someone already pointed this out…but it bares repeating)
    (2) The gender binary is a theory. There is no proof that we are in fact divided into two genders (or three, or four, or fifteen million). We don’t know enough about gender to even have a really good understanding of what parts of it are biological and what parts of is a socialized. What we do know is that people have different experiences with gender. I strongly ID with my assigned sex. When I think about myself, it is about a pretty femme woman. Other people women may have an internal view of themselves as more femme or less femme. Some people assigned as female may have an internal view of themselves as very masculine. Still others may view themselves as both or neither. My experience is no more reflective of reality than anyone else’s experience.
    BUT by saying that trans persons are *wrong* or sick or whatever conclusion sticking to the gender binary theory (or other theory) requires, you’re saying that you’re theory and your experience is more important than their experience. Which is the essence of privilege.
    I know clinging to theories provides a sense of certainty that makes us feel more comfortable with the world around us…but that feeling of security must not come at the expense of other people.
    Look, at the end of the day, none of us know for 100% sure why we are how we are. But that isn’t really relevant. Whatever our choices, whatever the reasons, we have to at least respect one another.

  31. Kristen
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    My grammar sucks first thing in the morning…my apologies.

  32. Caitlin Ate
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Your use of male pronouns as default is telling that you don’t really know what you’re talking about. My reaction when reading that you were shouted down for saying a lot of this is that maybe you need to go and read and learn before speaking your opinions in a manner that defines them as fact.
    Male is different to man/men and female is different to woman/women. Sex does not equal gender, gender does not equal sex.
    Why is ‘hermaphrodite’ a separate issue?
    Why do you get to determine other peoples identities for them?
    How old were you when you decided what gender you were? Did you ever make that decision?
    Demanding that people stick to the gender binary they belong to enforces the gender binary – which you recognise as a tool of oppression.
    You make a number of flawed and just plain wrong assumptions about how trans people live their lives and present themselves.
    Not all trans people are changing from one gender to another. Many trans and non-trans people believe that the gender binary is an oppressive social tool and that they don’t fit neatly into either category.
    “The essential idea expressed in a transgender argument is that a person’s sexuality IS expressed externally and is completely fundamental to the person’s identity.”
    No. This is not the essential idea. Please don’t speak authoritatively when you don’t know what you are talking about.

  33. Caitlin Ate
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Your use of male pronouns as default is telling that you don’t really know what you’re talking about. My reaction when reading that you were shouted down for saying a lot of this is that maybe you need to go and read and learn before speaking your opinions in a manner that defines them as fact.
    Male is different to man/men and female is different to woman/women. Sex does not equal gender, gender does not equal sex.
    Why is ‘hermaphrodite’ a separate issue?
    Why do you get to determine other peoples identities for them?
    How old were you when you decided what gender you were? Did you ever make that decision?
    Demanding that people stick to the gender binary they belong to enforces the gender binary – which you recognise as a tool of oppression.
    You make a number of flawed and just plain wrong assumptions about how trans people live their lives and present themselves.
    Not all trans people are changing from one gender to another. Many trans and non-trans people believe that the gender binary is an oppressive social tool and that they don’t fit neatly into either category.
    “The essential idea expressed in a transgender argument is that a person’s sexuality IS expressed externally and is completely fundamental to the person’s identity.”
    No. This is not the essential idea. Please don’t speak authoritatively when you don’t know what you are talking about.

  34. Caitlin Ate
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Your use of male pronouns as default is telling that you don’t really know what you’re talking about. My reaction when reading that you were shouted down for saying a lot of this is that maybe you need to go and read and learn before speaking your opinions in a manner that defines them as fact.
    Male is different to man/men and female is different to woman/women. Sex does not equal gender, gender does not equal sex.
    Why is ‘hermaphrodite’ a separate issue?
    Why do you get to determine other peoples identities for them?
    How old were you when you decided what gender you were? Did you ever make that decision?
    Demanding that people stick to the gender binary they belong to enforces the gender binary – which you recognise as a tool of oppression.
    You make a number of flawed and just plain wrong assumptions about how trans people live their lives and present themselves.
    Not all trans people are changing from one gender to another. Many trans and non-trans people believe that the gender binary is an oppressive social tool and that they don’t fit neatly into either category.
    “The essential idea expressed in a transgender argument is that a person’s sexuality IS expressed externally and is completely fundamental to the person’s identity.”
    No. This is not the essential idea. Please don’t speak authoritatively when you don’t know what you are talking about.

  35. Magpie_seven
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    Gah!
    In my most pleasant and calm voice:
    “hermaphrodite” is not a word that should be used when talking about human beings. When talking about human beings that are born without clearly identified or ambiguous genitalia, they are referred to as “intersex”. Different societies deal with intersex people in different ways, although they’re all pretty bad at it. Intersex people reading your post, which was all about the physical gender binary, may have felt insulted, marginalized or invisibilized EVEN IF THAT WAS NOT YOUR INTENT.
    This is a common mistake to make- please don’t make it again.

  36. Rachel_in_WY
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Yeah, in my experience even pointing out that sex and gender are distinct, or suggesting that gender is socially constructed is a huge no-no.

  37. Rachel_in_WY
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately this thread, like many others on these kinds of topics, seems to have jumped the shark pretty quickly. Maybe we need a couple of different threads: one to discuss the way language shapes the dialogue, and another to actually address the attitudes of so many commenters in various threads on trans issues.
    Some of the recent discussions of trans/cis issues have been pretty depressing to me, so I’ve sort of been avoiding them. The fact that people are even questioning whether or not trans issues are feminist issues, and that you have to work so hard to get many people to really listen and simply be sensitive is puzzling and depressing to me. If being inclusive, compassionate, invested in social justice, and thoughtful aren’t feminist values then what is a feminist value? Seriously.

  38. Vanessa
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    Comments are being shut down on this post, as well as the other community posts that are addressing these issues of conversation around trans people, gender variance and feminism.
    We’re doing this because it’s important to us to be able to moderate this conversation effectively.
    We want to continue the conversation, so anyone who wants to continue commenting on this topic, please post on this round up on the home page.
    Thanks to everyone for contributing to the dialogue.

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